Mon, 24 Feb 2003

Election campaign rules stir debate

Berni K. Moestafa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Now that legislators have permitted the participation of the heads of state in the election campaigns next year, questions have already surfaced on the extent of their involvement, without compromising public interests.

Legislators approved the change in the election law they endorsed last week, for the first time allowing the incumbent president and vice president to join the election campaigns of their respective political parties; but analysts said it lacked details.

"There is no clarity over who should regulate their campaigns," executive director of the Center for Electoral Reform (CETRO) Hadar N. Gumay said on Sunday.

Article 75 of the election law bans officials from using state facilities during campaigns. They must also take a leave of absence, but stay attentive to their duties.

Hadar said these three points should be elaborated. Except for security and a minimum level of protocol, President Megawati Soekarnoputri and Vice President Hamzah Haz should not be allowed to use state facilities, he opined.

What is unclear is how long state officials may take their leave, since the campaign period will last three weeks. Megawati and Hamzah might need several weeks, as they will almost certainly join the direct presidential election campaigns.

The general election is just one year away, but legislators and the government have not issued all the needed laws and rules to clear up such questions.

Legislator Ahmad Chozin Chumaidy agreed that the regulation should be clear, as political parties may face stiff sanctions if they breach Article 75.

Under Article 76, a violation could ban the party from continuing their campaign.

"What kind of political party would it be if it cannot campaign anymore?" asked Chozin of the United Development Party (PPP), whose chairman is Vice President Hamzah.

Meanwhile, CETRO's Hadar doubted whether the government could draw up the needed rulings without losing its objectivity.

"The government here is a contestant too -- we're talking about the ruling party...can the government regulate itself?" he asked in reference to the 1999 general elections winner, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI Perjuangan), which President Megawati chairs.

The election bill did contain a clause appointing the General Election Commission (KPU) to draft the rulings, but Hadar said that legislators dropped the clause and left the task open.

"They probably think the KPU consists of hard-liners who would impose stringent regulations that they don't want."

KPU member Ramlan Surbakti said ideally, the presidential law should regulate the issues concerning the president and vice president.

So far, there is no law regulating the leave of the country's state leaders.

Previously, the House of Representatives legislators demanded a presidential law regarding this issue during former President Abdurrahman Wahid's 22-month rule, but stopped pushing for it when Megawati replaced him. Analysts believe legislators merely wanted to curb Abdurrahman's presidential power.

It is unlikely now that legislators would want to pick up the bill again for the sake of regulating the president's leave.

There might not be enough time left to draft the law anyway, said Ramlan.

With time running short, lawmakers have yet to start debating the direct presidential election bill and another bill on the composition of legislative bodies. Aside from the political party and the general election laws, the two bills are also crucial in preparing next year's election.